The first time you taste this washed rind cheese, you'll be won over by its rich, sweet and nutty flavour - and by just how luxuriously it dissolves in your mouth. Intense but not sharp, the savoury taste is balanced with fresh, fruity notes. By the time you reach for the last piece you will be ready to fight over the crumbs on the cheeseboard.
Peau Rouge is the inspiration of expert affineur Jean-Philippe Gosselin at Les Dépendances in St-Hubert, Que. Working with cheese maker Fritz Kaiser, Mr. Gosselin's goal was to create an exceptional product by allowing a long ripening period to slowly coax peak flavours from this cheese. Peau Rouge gets its name from the natural, reddish-gold rind that the cheese develops while aging on red pine planks in Mr. Gosselin's ripening room.
Mr. Kaiser and Mr. Gosselin have a 30-year history of working together. The team of cheese maker and affineur, common in Europe, is fairly unusual in Canada, where most cheese makers produce and ripen their own cheese.
The art of affinage (from the French word affiner - "to finish") is ripening cheese to its peak of flavour, texture and aroma. Much of the flavour you taste in a cheese can be attributed to good affinage.
Factors that must be monitored when the cheese is maturing are temperature and humidity. For instance, as a cheese ages and loses moisture, its flavour and aroma become more intense. A wheel of Peau Rouge is aged for 10 to 12 months, during which time it can lose up to 500 grams of its weight (which is significant considering the final product is about 2.8 kilograms). This process can require daily monitoring of a cheese. The knowledge and skills of a master affineur take many years to perfect.
Though Peau Rouge is made from pasteurized milk, its complexity and full flavour begin with the quality of milk produced by the cows that graze in the fields of the south Montérégie in Quebec. Once formed, the wheels of cheese are turned and brine-washed for three months at Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser, at which point they are sent to Les Dépendances for final maturing.
The wheels of cheese that are delivered to Les Dépendances cannot be called Peau Rouge until they have undergone the scrutiny of Mr. Gosselin. Upon arrival, they are assessed for quality and appropriate storage. During affinage they are turned, checked and tasted on a regular basis. Mr. Gosselin makes a selection of the best wheels, often eliminating up to one-third of the original batch.
Aside from opening a bottle of wine, there's not much left for you to do but breathe a sigh of contentment.
Sue Riedl studied at the Cordon Bleu in London; email@example.com
On the block
Cheese Peau Rouge
Origin St-Hubert, Que.
Producer Les Dépendances
Affineur Jean-Philippe Gosselin
Milk Pasteurized cow
Type Semi-firm to firm, pressed cheese, natural washed rind
Shape 2.8-kilogram wheel
Notes Aged 10 to 12 months on red pine planks
Food Matches This one is great for the cheese board. Simply serve with seasonal fruit (apricots) and a glass of wine.
Distributor http://www.lesdependances.com; Phone: 450-656-6661 or 1-888-266-4491
Availability Supply is limited, so ask your cheesemonger to order if none is immediately available.
Montreal: Fromagerie Qui Lait Cru
Laval: Fromagerie des Nations
Tremblant, St-Sauveur, Ste-Agathe: S. Bourassa
Toronto: Nancy's Cheese (Harbord Bakery), Cheese Boutique, Pusateri's (Yorkville), About Cheese
Kingston: Cooke's Old World Shop
Guelph: Ouderkirk and Taylor
Collingwood: Dags and Willow
Beppi's wine matches
A fruity New World red such as merlot, pinot noir or zinfandel would work here. From Europe, consider a southern Italian red such as negroamaro or nero d'Avola or a Minervois or Saint-Chinian from southern France.
A beer fan might want to try a pale ale.